Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

What Makes a TV Show Offensive?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

What Makes a TV Show Offensive?

Article excerpt

Seinfeld," NBC's long-running comedy, is chic, camp, tart and usually funny. It's never violent, rarely profane. But at times it sinks to a base sexuality that shorts out the humor and degrades human affection.

I'm not calling for censorship. I'm raising a question: Should I watch "Seinfeld" with my 8-year-old granddaughter?

It's not a matter of profanity: She won't hear Jerry say anything she hasn't heard on the playground. And I can't imagine George or Elaine gunning anyone down in cold blood. No, the risk is that, on any evening, it will veer into rank sluttishness. Sure would be nice to find out before we sit down to watch. But if Jack Valenti and his colleagues on the Implementation Group for TV Ratings have their way, we'll never know. Their new report is the television industry's response to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. To help parents screen out inappropriate programs, the act mandates the so-called "V-chip" in all TV sets built after 1997. It also calls for creating a coded rating system. Valenti and friends want a system like the one used for movies, based only on age. So here I sit on the couch with my granddaughter. Suppose "Seinfeld's" code this week is "TV-Y-7," meaning it's fine for everyone 7 or older. But what makes it inappropriate for her 6-year-old brother? Bad language? Raunchy situations? Valenti's group apparently doesn't want me to know. What's more, he has threatened to take to court any group that seeks to promote a rating system that makes producers discriminate among language, sex and violence. And that's the problem. Yes, all three are offensive. But some are worse than others, and there are sharp moral distinctions to be made among them. I'd prefer to make the distinctions myself, thank you, rather than have the industry tell me they don't matter. Start with bad language. It inculcates disrespect, replaces reason with cliche, demeans others and reduces conversation to a series of grunts. …

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